Members of Congress have wrestled for months over whether and how to overhaul Capitol security, with occasional partisan scuffles but mostly cross-aisle concern about safety and sufficient support for Capitol Police. The loss suffered on Friday could lend new momentum to efforts at better mental-health resources for a department that hadn’t yet found its footing after the riot.
“Having a loss like this on the heels of Jan. 6, and the losses after that, is devastating to the police department,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) in an interview. “We need to make sure that they have the resources that they need and show that they have our support. We need to demonstrate it with action.”
Wexton represents the family of Officer Howard Liebengood — who died by suicide on Jan. 9 — and is supporting his family’s efforts to expand mental health resources for the Capitol Police. Liebengood’s wife, Dr. Serena Liebengood, has publicly attributed her husband’s death to the strain he was under amid round-the-clock shifts that followed the assault on the Capitol.
Wexton said she wants to create a “mental health unit” within the Capitol Police, one that would include peer-to-peer counseling for officers who might be reluctant to seek help from a non-officer.
A long list of grave problems confronts the force, where there are already 233 vacancies, and hundreds more officers are on the brink of retirement, according to its union. Capitol Police leaders are facing intense political heat for their failures on Jan. 6, with three dozen facing internal investigations for their own actions during the chaos and the department’s inspector general delivering a scathing assessment. Two officers are suing Trump for alleged incitement of the insurrection.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a wholesale restructuring of the department as it struggles to strike a balance between security and open access to the Capitol. As if that stress on the Capitol Police wasn’t enough, there’s the global pandemic that has beaten down all Americans, but especially those in front line roles like law enforcement.
“Anytime an organization has a loss like this, it permeates across the organization,” said Linda Singh, a former Maryland National Guard commander who served on retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honore’s task force on Capitol security. “They have to still show up and do their job. And that’s tough, right? It’s not like they can just shut down, take a pause, take time off.”
The car attack that killed one officer, William Evans, and wounded another, Ken Shaver, compounded the loss. On a quiet and sunny Good Friday, a driver identified as 25-year-old Noah Green allegedly rammed his vehicle into a Capitol Police checkpoint and brandished a knife. (Shaver was released from the hospital on Saturday.) Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday morning that Evans would lie in state in the Capitol rotunda next week.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters Monday that he hadn’t yet seen all the details from the attack but was “not sure” what could have prevented it: “I don’t know how you get to the balance of 100 percent security plus the public’s right to have access to their Capitol.”
In a statement, the Capitol Police praised the officers’ union’s push for more hiring and retaining current officers, as well as stepping up new security measures to protect the force. A spokesperson also pointed to a surge of mental health resources that have been offered to Capitol officers since Jan. 6.
Law enforcement agencies from across the country have offered Capitol Police use of their peer support programs. Those agencies include the U.S. Marshalls Service, the State…